Young Scientists

Rym Kefi: "I founded molecular anthropology in Tunisia"

Facing the challenges of a come back to your home country can discourage a lot of young graduates or PhDs. But some accept them, as Rym Kefi.

Who are you?

My name is Rym Kefi, I come from Tunisia. I am an assistant professor at the Pasteur Institute of Tunis, chief of staff of the Laboratory of Biomedical Genomics and Oncogenetics.

Why did you go to Europe for your PhD?

After a master’s degree in natural sciences in Tunisia in 2000, I got a scholarship to go and study in France. It was not my plan to study in France, but since I got this scholarship, it was an opportunity to go in another university, and explore other horizons. On top of that, it was in a field that did not exist in Tunisia: molecular anthropology. I went to La Timone medical faculty in Marseille. I stayed there between 2000 and 2005.

Why did you choose to come back in Tunisia?

Even before I completed my PhD, I had opportunities to work in France. But I chose to come back in Tunisia because the molecular anthropology field did not exist. I came back to teach this specialty and develop the local capacities. And I think it is our duty to help our country, develop capacities and human resources, and improve our skills.

What difficulties did you experience?

There are difficulties everywhere. In Tunisia, we do not have as much resources as in France, to buy chemical products for instance. Also, I was unemployed for two years after my PhD. Tunisia is a small country so there is a lot of PhDs, more than needed. When I got my assistant professor position, it was way easier to set up collaborations, to supervise students. I continue to collaborate with my former colleagues in France and with new collaborators. You are never isolated when you come back to your home country.

What would you tell young African PhD candidates who want to return in Africa?

You must persevere. It is not always easy, but you can succeed. Two years or more of unemployment are not an issue. I have been a volunteer researcher, a contract worker, working on shift from times to times. You must keep training, stay in your field and you will always have opportunities.

Interview by Anthony Audureau


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Who are we? is published by Coopetic.

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